Sweet tap-dancing Christ, NORWEGIAN WOOD really is the most boring, self-indulgent, opaque, pointless film I have seen in a long time. I didn't care about any of the characters. I didn't find any of their actions authentic. I didn't understand any of their motivations. All that was left was a series of ponderous still shots and a fascinating soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood.
Not having read the widely acclaimed and popular Murukami novel, all I can judge is what the movie gives me. And from what I can tell the story is basically about a boy called Toru (Kenichi Matsuyama), whose best friend committed suicide in high school. A few years later he's at college in Tokyo in the 60s and meets the best friend's ex girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi). They start hanging out, maybe to rekindle memories of the dead boy - they fuck - and this precipitates a nervous breakdown for the girl, who goes off to a rural sanitarium where she share s a room with another patient called Reiko (Reika Kirishima), who will later throw herself at Toru. Toru continues to believe he is in love with Naoko but starts hanging out with Midori (Kiki Mizuhara), a pretty flirtatious student who apparently already has a boyfriend. Her easy sexual banter contrasts strongly with Naoko's frigidity.
But of course, this is pop psychology 101. Toru clearly has issues. He's wandering through life passively falling in with any girl who toys with him - bland and banal and acted upon. The three girls he fucks might seem superficially different but they are all essentially the same - emotionally unavailable and inordinately needy. This could have made for a fascinating psycho-sexual drama, and I suspect that's what the novel delivers. But given the opacity and lack of interiority shown in the movie, what we get is an truly uninteresting, banal story: a plastic hero and his three emotionally needy, unavailable women.
What this film needs is a sense of humour. It also needs to offer us some explanations of why people do what they do. It needs to be firmly embedded in its time and place. Beyond some period costumes and a particularly cheesy use of the Beatles' song, I want to know why students are marching - to feel more of the sixties vibe. And, most of all, what this film needs is a sense of interiority - of Toru's emotional journey through various love affairs toward maturity. It lacks any kind of beating, bleeding centre that might elicit our empathy, let alone sympathy.
NORWEGIAN WOOD played Venice and Toronto 2010 and was released last year in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Russia, Vietnam and Hong Kong. It was released earlier this year in the Netherlands and the Netherlands. It is currently on release in Thailand and the UK. It opens this weekend in Sweden; on April 14th in Singapore; on April 21st in Hungary; and on July 7th in Germany.